Merging Work and Vacation: Introducing the Employee “Workcation” Trend

Note from MatchFIT Consultant, Jillian Miles: Research and personal experience tell us that American employees often underutilize or “save up” PTO, sometimes leading to disengagement and burnout. Could the workcation trend be an option for employees who don’t need time off but need a little inspiration and change of scenery? I recently learned about some very cool workcation research by my friend and Fit Blog contributor, Daniela Hodges, and I asked her to write about this topic for us. Here’s what she had to say.

The tourism and hospitality industry have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. This is not news to any current hospitality worker who has either faced job loss or survived the chop. As a current graduate student in a Master of Tourism program, it is hard to imagine what course material was like before COVID-19. While studying the intricacies of the industry, the central theme seems to be how to aid the recovery period and regain traveler confidence. In my studies, I found myself focused on the concept of the “Workcation”. A workcation is the combination of work and vacation, meaning the traveler intends to work all or part of their time away. Are more Americans taking advantage of traveling while working remotely? This inspired my presentation for my research methods class*: Would Americans be willing to take a “Workcation”? Do COVID-19 safety concerns and tourism ethnocentrism affect this decision? 

For most, working from home is a new experience. Couple that with stay-at-home mandates in the early days of the pandemic and it is no surprise that working remotely from a different location did not become popular. As destinations and hotels reopen safely, is the concern for catching COVID-19 still affecting travel bookings? Or do any Americans feel a pull to support the economy due to the pandemic’s effects on the economy? Like the “Buy American” retail sentiment, does this extend to traveling nationally or even locally instead of internationally? Before reading about the results, explore how you feel about those questions. How do you think people responded?

I learned a lot from this study, but not enough to make a data-driven decision about whether or not most people would take workcations. I saw mixed reviews from the 135 respondents. Let’s take a look at one respondent’s reason they would not take a workcation: PTO. This respondent was concerned for frivolously using PTO and admitted that they safeguard it for emergencies and then it usually expires before it gets used. This struck me, because the point of a workcation is not to use any PTO. The whole idea is that you will continue to work while at the destination. There is a great article by Fredrick Kunkle from 2017 that shows interesting data on Americans in respect to international travel, crediting this lack of travel to a lack of mandated PTO. Based on a 2013 report, he cites that the U.S. was “the only country among a group of wealthy nations that did not require employers to grant their workers paid vacation”. And some five countries even gave their workers a small vacation bonus to help offset vacation expenses! Kunkle continues by adding that “only a third of Americans use the vacation time allotted to them”. Even then, there is an emotional and psychological reason for this respondent’s answer, like a “fear of looking replaceable”. However, the impact is larger than you might think. Check out this excerpt from U.S. Travel’s The State of American Vacation 2018:

“While the numbers are moving in a positive direction, more than half of Americans are still not using all the vacation time they earn. The 52 percent who left vacation on the table accumulated 705 million unused days last year, up from 662 million days the year before. Though this increase may seem counterintuitive to Americans using more vacation time, it is a function of employees earning more time. The average employee reported earning 23.2 paid time off days, an increase of more than half a day (.6 days) over the previous year. Of these days, Americans forfeited 212 million days, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. That means employees effectively donated an individual average of $561 in work time to their employer in 2017. The more than 700 million days that go unused represent a $255 billion opportunity that the American economy is not capturing. Had Americans used that vacation time, the activity could have generated 1.9 million jobs.”

This report goes on to propose a rise in workcations to solve the PTO conundrum. But even their data showed that most workers are not interested. However, their data also showed that those who have taken a workcation before have a much higher affinity to the idea with “55% of the experienced group calling it appealing.” This is the very question I have at the end of my research, would educational campaigns or advertising help Americans warm to the idea?

If you are reading this thinking I am a reckless and irresponsible pandemic citizen, hear me out! I am not talking about traveling to congested areas like a theme park or casino. Entertainment, education, and relaxation can all be found in the great outdoors or indoor activities that allow for distancing. Do you live in driving distance to a beach or hiking spot? Traveling there during off-peak times would give much needed space from people to be safe, and traveling during the week tends to be less expensive. The same can be said for a town you have had on your list for a while (for me, its Savannah, GA) and want to experience in a unique way. A lot of restaurants have partnered with food delivery apps, meaning you can still taste your way through a destination by ordering take out while working. Even major hotel chains have gotten in on the action with special “work-from-hotel” packages that can include use of the hotel’s amenities and freebies like rounds of golf or spa experiences! Some even have day packages during work hours where you can even get some productive time away from your loveable and distracting new coworkers in your own hometown. As someone who does not currently work from home, I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the different sights they can see in this unusual time, and so I can live vicariously through you!

Workcations can prevent burnout, inspire innovation and creativity, and allow employees to recharge and recommit. Our communities benefit from the tourism and economic growth associated with workcations. The relationship between economic growth and organizational success is symbiotic. Simply put, workcations are good for business. 

The CDC has a fantastic guide to safe travel that contains any and all information you might need. There is even a “Travel Planner” feature that gives you state and local information, requirements, and restrictions by the destination.

*This study was done for my research methods course meaning it was research for the sake of research. A larger study should be done to validate my findings. 

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